Takuma Sato became the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race on Sunday in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in California.
The win came in Sato’s 52nd career start, and was the first for A.J. Foyt Racing since Airton Dare won at Kansas in 2002. Only the Texan wasn’t on hand to make his first-ever trip to Long Beach’s Victory Lane. A sciatic nerve that will require surgery forced him to watch the race on television at home.
The victory on the temporary street course through Long Beach – where Foyt never won as a driver or team owner – was a huge accomplishment for the organization. A.J. Foyt Racing’s last win on a street or road course was with Foyt behind the wheel at Silverstone in 1978.
“It was an easy win,” said the diminutive Sato, who leapt into the arms of his crew members in Victory Lane. “It was just a perfect weekend to be honest. The team did a tremendous job. Pit stops, right calls, the power was great and I was comfortable in the car and able to push everything.”
From Texas, Foyt said via telephone the “last five laps were the longest five laps of anything.”
“We’ve had a lot of drivers, but none of them wanted to win,” Foyt said. “This boy wants to win.”
Sato held off Graham Rahal, who took his seat at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for the win that pushed him into second in the IndyCar standings. Justin Wilson, who started 24th because he never got a qualifying run in on Saturday, drove all the way to third and pole-sitter Dario Franchitti was fourth in his 250th career start. It marked a sweep of the top four spots for Honda.
JR Hildebrand was the highest finishing Chevrolet driver in fifth, his best finish of the season, and Oriol Servia was sixth after a penalty for avoidable contact was overturned. That pushed Marco Andretti down a spot to sixth, but the highest finish for an Andretti organization that was looking to open the season with three consecutive wins.
A late crash between Servia and Tony Kanaan sent Kanaan into the wall and brought out the caution that ended the race under yellow. Servia was hit with a 30-second penalty, but he appealed and it was rescinded.
Three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir, Bahrain, easily beating Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
After taking the lead for good on the 17th lap, the Red Bull driver was never challenged. Raikkonen closed the gap in the final five laps but ran out of time. Grosjean passed Force India’s Paul di Resta for third for his best finish this season.
Vettel retains the championship lead after four of 19 races. Raikkonen is 10 points back.
Matt Hagan ended a 17-month winless drought by racing to the Funny Car victory at the Dollar General NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also were winners of the only NHRA event that runs competition in four lanes.